I was in Ohio this past week for a family emergency and while I spent most of my time with family, I did take a few breaks to clear my head. I wound up driving to nowhere in particular, I spent a couple of hours rolling through green landscapes of elms, maples and sycamores; seeing horses and cows and hay bales dotting the hillsides. It all reminded me of my childhood – that time before life really sped up…back when my cousin, who is long-since passed, and I would catch crawfish in the stream and make lanterns out of lightning bugs; when we would see how many of us could pile into the back of a car to go to the drive-in and we’d watch the nightly amusement-park fireworks from the back yard. I remember sitting on the porch to watch the tornadoes go by and going to my brothers’ Friday night football games. I thought of my old tree house and of eating the pork chops, green beans and mashed potatoes that sustained me 40 years back.
During the week I saw two exhibits that reminded me that we are all influenced, not by one artist or one experience, but by the cumulative layers that build to create our personal histories. The first one was Wild Card: The Art of Michael Combs, A Fifteen Year Survey at 21c down in Louisville and the second one was Patti Smith: The Coral Sea at the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati.
I guess it was because I was in an area that I once called home that I was feeling especially nostalgic, but I really enjoyed Michael Combs’ show. Combs’ exploration of societal norms connects with viewers because it examines those personal memories that we each carry. His story might be exactly the same as yours or mine, but he confronts us to recall those rites of passage that shape our ideas of gender, race and class.
At the CAC, I checked out Patti Smith’s The Coral Sea. The museum provides a somber setting for this site-specific installation which showcases her reflections on art, on death and rebirth. The centerpiece is a veiled room-within-a-room, resembling the Kaaba; inside the trance-like recording of poetry read by Smith and Kevin Shields set a spiritual tone for the exhibit. The museum’s concrete walls stand as stark backdrops for the hospital beds and silverprints that pay tribute to Robert Mapplethorpe.
21C is an exciting hotel concept that displays art, not only throughout the hotel and restaurant spaces, but also incorporates gallery space to make each hotel a contemporary art museum. I’ve been to the ones in Louisville and Cincinnati; there is also one in Bentonville, AK that I know I will see eventually. I understand ones in Lexington, KY and Durham, NC are now in the works.
The Contemporary Arts Center is one of the nation’s oldest contemporary art institutions. It is a non-collecting museum devoted to presenting contemporary art from around the world. Coincidentally, 21c (Cincinnati) is located just next door.